Sunday, November 13, 2011

Homily for 33rd Sunday (adapted for retreat)


Retreat Homily for
Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(adaptation of Sunday's regular homily)

          Jesus prepares his friends for the end times by telling them another parable about one's disposition to enter into the kingdom. Last week, the ten virgins were exhorted to remain vigilant for the bridegroom. This week, we hear a story of a man who is leaving for a journey of unexpected duration. He entrusts his talents to three servants with an undeclared expectation that they will prudently invest these talents for greater profit.
          Without haste, the first two servants trade them in an apparently vibrant economy and is able to earn double their worth. The third servant decides to be very responsible. He hides the single talent entrusted to him and returns it to his master who is angry with his course of action. The master wanted him to invest and use the talent wisely - earning even a small degree of interest. Making use of what was given to him is more important than hoarding it for safe keeping.
          The damaging aspect of the non-risk servant is that he operates out of fear. He sees no excitement in the possibilities of watching the talent's value grow. His fear stunts his freedom. It is likely that he worried day and night about the buried talent. He thinks he does not have to worry about his master's return because he would be able to present the talent intact. He can't lose anything. Think about the gladness of the other two servants who proudly present their good investment to the master. Surely, even if the non-risk servant failed and lost the talent, his master would not have treated him harshly because he took a daring chance. To do nothing means to fall behind.
          Part of our problem is that we have constructed air-tight answers to the reasons we don't allow ourselves to do certain things. We say 'no' to invitations, and that is that. No one is going to change our answers. We are in control and no one is going to derail us. I wonder if the non-risk servant thought like this too. He built so many answers around his fear that he could no longer see that he fundamentally operates out of fear. What a shame. Fear stops us from living fully. Fear stops us from being happy. We tighten up our firm control when we encounter the slightest bit of fear. What will it take to make us vulnerable once again?
          This parable gives me pause when I consider how well I use the talents invested to me by God. Sure, I have used some and I'm grateful for those few that I have been given, but I know I have not invested in them to the degree expected. I often take a safe route and adopt a conservative approach for my own needs. I tend not to speak up for myself in words or through actions. Fear still holds me back because I do not boldly ask for what I want and need. I try to consider what others want first. I may give 10 percent to my talents, and maybe I'm expected to give 60 percent more. Perhaps I was not formed to nurture my talents. I guess I am a lot like the non-risk servant and I can understand his protective measures. For me to break out of my current rationalizations would mean to confront my fears - and this is uncomfortable and I need a nudge.
          The value of friends cannot be underestimated on this journey. The Book of Proverbs tells us this friend or spouse only brings us that which is good. Friends' investments in us will help us live fulfilled lives. Friends believe in us, which encourages us to try with greater confidence. Friends respect our day-dreams and implore us to act upon them because of the magical stuff they see in us. Too often, we say 'no.' We need one another because we are brought out of ourselves by each other.
          Our friendships on earth mirror the friendship we can have with God. When we learn to relate to God as friend, we can note the ways God encourages us to develop parts of ourselves that are still in potency. God will also work with us to transform our wounds into glory. We learn to accept sincere praise from others so we can more fully actualize ourselves. We learn to accept sincere praise from God, who is always laboring for us. God's praise will take away our fears and give us confident, grounded courage. God will bring us from the status of a non-risk servant to one who invests generously to make the best yield for ourselves and for God. God will help us have fun while doing it. We really have nothing to lose.
          Fortunately, the master has not yet returned and it is still my responsibility to double the effect of my talents. I will be called on to give an accounting for my use of the talents plus interest. I wonder where I will stand when I am called into account. I know that I do not have much time left to reform my actions. I have to be open to opportunities and to listen to friends' counsel. I still have to figure out with God which talents are to be explored and which ones to leave behind.
          I know that when I am on retreat, it is my most provocative time for day-dreaming. I consider all the things in life that I would still like to do - all those things that will bring me personal happiness and a tremendous sense of freedom. It never feels self-centered or selfish. It always feels like a fulfillment of my childhood dreams. Day-dreaming can be wild and fantastic, but it is never a place where I encounter fear - only desire.
          Ignatius of Loyola came to know this. His greatest illumination from God came not from prayer, but from the down-time when he was just day-dreaming as he sat on the banks of the Cardoner River near Manresa, Spain. He did not do anything, but let his mind wander to where his desires led him. They led him back to the one who fulfills all desires. Ignatius recounts that day of dreaming as his most instructive and fulfilling.  We have to give our dreams and aspirations more courage and energy.
          Soon we will be standing before God at the end of our lives. We have to give an accounting. I hope that I stand before God empty-handed - with not a single bit of talent left - so I can say to God, "I used everything you gave me."